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Compressed Air Systems

AIR COMPRESSORS

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Frequently Asked Questions

What You Need To Know Before Buying Your Compressed Air System

You need to know what you’re going to be using the air compressor for because the use influences the type of compressor you’ll need.

For instance, the pharmaceutical or food processing industries have stricter application requirements than other industries. If your company is in the pharmaceutical or food industry, you may want to consider an oil-free air compressor, which minimizes the risk of any oil coming in contact with the air itself.  When you use compressed air to remove shells from nuts or mix dry products, the food comes into direct contact with the air. Direct contact means that the air must be free of particulate contaminants and should have a low dew point, to prevent microbial growth.

Understanding air quality needs is a major component of selecting an air compressor.

Identifying proper application use will also help you determine things like the duty cycle you need, the compressor design, power requirements and more.

The tools that you plan to use with your air compressor each have a rating in cubic feet per minute (CFM). The rating tells you how much air the tool will use, and for multiple tools, you’ll need to add the ratings together. Another reason to consider your equipment is that some air compressor designs work better for different tasks than others. Tools that you use continuously, like sanders and grinders, can benefit more from a compressor that offers a constant flow, like a rotary screw compresso

Frequency of use is a major consideration when you’re purchasing a new compressor. The demands on a compressor working six to seven hours a day, five days a week, are much different than the demands on a compressor that is only used every once in a while. Try to get an idea of how often you’ll have the compressor running. You’ll also want to consider how frequently it will be turned on and off. Intermittent power puts different demands on the system than continuous use.

Knowing your usage can help you determine what duty cycle your compressor needs. The duty cycle determines how long a compressor can run at a time. If it has an 80% duty cycle, it shouldn’t be run for more than eight minutes for every 10-minute period. Industrial compressors can have a duty cycle of up to 100%, so they can run continuously, while hobby compressors may have around 50%. A higher duty cycle can offer better efficiency over higher-horsepower models, depending on the application.

Location plays a significant role in the operation of your compressor and can affect air quality, maintenance factors and the office environment. If the compressor is outdoors, you’ll need to protect it from rain, heat, sunlight and other elements. Many compressors are built for this purpose and manufactured accordingly.

Ventilation is a primary concern when an air compressor is indoors. Small, enclosed spaces like closets can impede operation and generate a lot of heat. Most compressors are air-cooled, so be sure that the heat emissions from the compressor do not recirculate to the space where cooling air should be. Placing a compressor too close to the wall can also create excessive heat — aim to put it at least three feet away. The right compressor size and style can help you fit it in a good location.

Single, muti-stage and rotary screw air compressors are all stationary and designed for use in one location, while portable air compressors can provide more flexibility, as you can move them around and to your work station.

You’ll still need to keep a portable air compressor well-ventilated and attach it to an appropriate power source. It is typically a good choice for one-person operations.

Check what kind of voltage and electricity connections you have available. It may be a good idea to have an experienced electrician review your space before you buy a compressor. In a residential setting, you may only have enough voltage to power smaller, single-stage machines. Industrial environments will offer more power, but you’ll still need to know your capabilities and ensure that the device you want can match those numbers. Horsepower is generally a good indicator of how much power a machine needs, but CFM and pounds per square inch (PSI) are perhaps more useful for your calculations.

If you do not have access to electrical power, you are more limited in your choice of tool,  as extension cords and generators aren’t recommended for use with an air compressor. The extension cords aren’t effective at providing appropriate power to the machine, although longer hoses can help you reach your work area better. Generators may cause fluctuations in power that can be damaging to an air compressor.

You need to know the pressure demands on your air compressor. Check manufacturer specifications to determine the PSI that your tools need and consider if they will be running concurrently. If your demand is high, a two-stage compressor might more effectively reach the PSI requirements due to its higher capacity. When choosing a machine, think about the PSI required by your highest-demand tool. If your highest-rated tool requires 80 PSI, your compressor must have a minimum of an 80 PSI rating. Remember that pressure losses can occur in your air lines and piping, especially with devices like air dryers and filters, so factor that into your calculations as well.

If you’re wondering how much airflow you need, manufacturer specifications will tell you how much air each of your tools requires, usually in CFM or SCFM. SCFM stands for standard cubic feet per minute and accounts for different environmental factors that can change the performance of an air tool. Some machines will also offer an average CFM (ACFM), based on a 25% duty cycle. To find the continuous rating for the ACFM, multiply the number by four.

Remember to add in all of the tools that are likely to be used at the same time. This compounding can significantly increase the demand placed on your compressor. Also, consider buying a machine with a little extra CFM capability if you’ll be expanding in the future or want more flexibility for heavy use times. We typically recommend a machine that offers CFMs about 30-50% higher than the requirements from your highest-rated tool.

Air compressor tanks measure in gallons and can affect how some tools operate. Continuous-air tools such as sanders and grinders demand larger tanks than intermittent-use tools like staplers and nail guns. Bigger tanks are often better, due to less motor strain and condensation. A motor kicks on and fills up a tank with compressed air. The more it needs to turn on and off to fill the tank, the faster it will burn out, which shortens the life of your compressor. A larger tank reduces the strain on the motor by minimizing the number of starts it takes to keep the tank full.

As for the topic of moisture, air must be cooled after it is compressed. Immediately after compression, it is hot and holds onto moisture. A smaller air tank increases the likelihood of using the air before it has the chance to cool down. When warm air goes through the air lines, it can cause a buildup of condensation, which may damage the tools and the compressor itself. A large tank can help reduce these issues, and so can additional devices like aftercoolers, which cool the air before it flows through the line.

Using a vertical or horizontal air tank is generally based on personal preference and the location in which you’ll be putting the compressor.

Many facilities use additional equipment or opt for features in their compressors to meet specific needs.

  • Air dryer: To address the problem of moisture in the air lines, several different types of air dryers exist to remove that moisture and reduce the dew point of the air. Some applications and sanitary work processes benefit from this kind of machine.
  • Filters: The right filter system will remove moisture and particles from the air and can help you ensure a clean product. Oil and water separators can also help keep your lines clear.
  • Belt drive or direct drive: In rotary screw air compressors, you can find belt-driven or direct-driven options. In a direct drive model, the motor connects to the crankshaft of the compressor. It can work at lower temperatures with high efficiencies but can be more costly, challenging to maintain and noisy. Belt-drive compressors use a belt and pulleys to connect the motor and the pump, With these models, you can adjust airflow and pressure more easily. While they may not work well in extreme temperatures or harsh environments, they are less expensive and easier to maintain.
  • Cast-iron components: Cast iron crankcases, flywheels, valve seats and crankshafts can increase the durability of your compressor.
  • ASME parts: Components that meet the standards and codes of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers may offer better performance and safety features.
  • Low-oil protection: This feature enables a compressor to shut down if oil levels get too low, preventing downtime and expensive repairs from the effects of low fluid levels.
  • Ball-valve tank drain: With this feature, you can drain the tank frequently and easily to remove any moisture.